Teen Modesty in a Culture of Seduction

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in household rules, parenting, teen communications, teen culture, teen seduction, troubled teens

 

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Remember the crazy fads in the late 60’s and 70’s?  The tie-dyed shirts, the beads, headbands, and the peace symbols? When I was in high school my dad hated my bushy sideburns and long hair, my purple bell bottoms and boots that came up over my knees.  It was a fad to look like the rock idols of the day and that look was in. My appearance made no sense to my parents, but it made a lot of sense to me at the time.

I bet there are things your parents didn’t like about the way you dressed as a teenager. Chances are, you don’t still dress that way, and when you look at those old pictures you may giggle, as I do, about how foolish you looked back then.

Today, I mostly hear from concerned parents of teenage girls who want to dress too seductively. They wonder how to deal with the issue of seduction when it has become so pervasive in our culture.

Teens today live in a world of sexual innuendo, where outward packaging and presentation is all important. The definition of modesty has changed for them, not so much because of the lack of values taught by parents, but because of the overwhelming exposure given to seductive lifestyles.

For the most part, dressing seductively is just a fad, and all fads pass soon enough. If your teen wants to be in on the fad of the moment, it doesn’t mean much of anything about her character, other than that she is playing out a role on the stage of adolescence. Generally speaking, she hasn’t gone off the deep end just because she wants to wear current fashions.

This fad can be a challenge for parents to manage, since the Internet, coupled with books, television, music videos and movies, have all inundated our kids with seductive images and inappropriate suggestions. Highly sexualized lifestyles are touted as normal, so girls face extreme social pressure to look and act seductively as well.

Girls from good Christian homes often tell me they are torn between doing what is acceptable by their peer group to “fit in,” and doing what is taught them by their families and church. More times than not, the social pressures for the teen to look and act like their peers will win out when they are in school or out with their friends.  But they will soon realize that the end result of their seductive presentation — when guys do pay attention — is not always what they expected, or what they really wanted in the first place.

My advice for parents is to not flip out when your daughter is just trying to fit in.  Using harsh words that defame her character such as, “you look like a …” will only push her deeper into the negative behavior. Rather, calmly and regularly address the more important issue of modesty.  Focusing on modesty, versus putting down the current fashion as our own parents did with us, will eliminate the perceived generation gap. And that way, when the next fad comes along she’ll understand her boundaries within that fad as well.

Make sure she understands that modesty is an important part of your family’s values and that’s not an area you’ll allow to be compromised, no matter what the current culture or fad says.

Is maintaining modesty going to be easy? No. But by being diligent and also showing that you understand her need to fit in with the culture she lives in, you’ll be able to maintain a great relationship with your little princess as you navigate and struggle through these tough waters. In the long run, a strong and open relationship with your child, coupled with uncompromising values of modesty, will best insure that she maintains appropriate dress, even when you aren’t looking.

…have(ing) righteous principles in the first place…they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.  — Martin Luther

Dressing seductively is a fad today for teenage girls.  Like any other fad, it will pass soon enough. Parenting teenage girls to be modest in their appearance in the midst of this fad is a tough place to be, and every concerned parent I know hopes it will pass a little quicker. But then again, who knows what the next fad will bring?

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Teens and Alcohol: A Scary Mixture

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, parenting communications, substance abuse, troubled teens

10:23 Halloween copy

Halloween is just around the corner. That means parties & festivals start to increase and sometimes alcohol is also invited. How can we protect our teens and help them say “No!” to alcohol?

Statistically, your teen will drink alcohol in high school.  Some parents know it.  Some don’t want to admit it.  According to national studies, 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by underage kids.  The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, 39% admitted to drinking some amount of alcohol within the last thirty days.  8% of those students drove after drinking alcohol, and more than 24% said they rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

With that in mind, are you still willing to believe your child won’t be offered or even start drinking alcohol in their teen years?  With all the kindness and Christian charity this Texan can muster, can I say:  That’s just crazy!

I am a teen advocate.  My career revolves around helping teens and their parents deal with serious issues, and I have seen too many broken hearts and wounded lives as a result of teen alcohol use to take it casually.  A teen’s maturity level is simply not developed enough to make good decisions regarding alcohol. The physical changes they are undergoing in their brains and bodies mean they cannot properly assess the impact drinking is having on them.  Regardless of your position on alcohol use by adults (and I know many good people who draw that line in different places), we all agree that teens and alcohol is a dangerous mixture.

KNOW THE STORY

Before we can ever address the problem of teen drinking, it helps to know why a teen drinks.  If you find out your son or daughter is drinking, take a moment to uncover the bigger story.  In my experience, many teens drink to fit in.  It’s the feeling of camaraderie and community that leads even good kids, who have strong beliefs and values otherwise, to pick up a bottle.  In some cases, teens drink to erase painful memories.  My wife was sexually abused for years, without anyone finding out.  Those images are replayed over and over in a child’s mind, and sometimes they are looking for a way to make those agonizing movies stop.  Worried or anxious teens may use alcohol in order to sleep.  Some kids drink because they are frustrated, feel like failures, or are angry.  Of course, I’ve talked to teens who were simply curious about alcohol or enjoyed the feeling of being drunk.  But you’ll never know why your child may be drinking if you don’t ask.

ASK QUESTIONS

Uncovering the reasons behind teen drinking requires moms and dads to ask questions.  But notice I did not say interrogate.  You’re not asking questions to prove your case and bring down the hammer.  You want to ask questions so you can understand your child better.  Ask your child questions like “Do any of your friends drink?” “Have you been pressured to drink?” “What do you think about alcohol?” If they respond by saying they tried it, I encourage you to thank them for being honest and work with them to understand why it isn’t a good idea for teens to drink.

Several of the teens at Heartlight are here primarily because of issues that come from drinking. I asked one of them the other day why she started drinking, and she said, “Because my friends were drinking.” In order to fit in, this sixteen-year-old girl began using alcohol despite what her parents had taught her and the fact that her older brother had died in a drunk driving accident.  She went on to say, “I was scared to say no.  I didn’t want to be the outsider.”

The best strategy for preventing teens from experimenting with alcohol is to have an ongoing conversation with them about drinking.  This isn’t something that can be mentioned once and then left alone.  Keep the dialogue going.  Keep asking questions.  And if you have suspicions, don’t be afraid to ask your child directly, “Are you drinking?

SET BELIEFS AND CONSEQUENCES

Preventing or dealing with teen alcohol use doesn’t end with asking good questions.  The next step is to communicate your beliefs on the subject and set concrete consequences should your child step outside the lines.  Concerned parents need to lay down clear and firm boundaries in this area.  Your child needs to know what the consequences will be before they use alcohol.  For example, you might tell them that they will lose their car if you learn they have been drinking and driving.  And if they get arrested for a DUI, you won’t provide bail for them.  That may sound harsh, but consider the alternatives.  What will happen if they hit and kill someone while driving drunk?  Teens don’t think about those possibilities when they drink.  In their minds, they’re untouchable and invincible.  It’s our job to make them aware that they are not!

You can tell your 16-year-old son, “When you are 21, whether you drink is up to you. Right now, though, it is up to me to make sure you don’t drink. I’m going to draw the line and hold that line to protect you.”  Your teen may not like the boundaries you set (although he’ll probably appreciate it more than he would ever admit), but he needs them, if for no other reason than to tell his peers the dire consequences if he is caught.  And even if your teen doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, set these guidelines and consequences now, so that everyone in the family is on the same page.

Teenage alcohol use is an issue that needs to be addressed head-on.  You may think “my teen will never become an alcoholic, or get arrested for driving under the influence, or get pregnant because she was too drunk to care.”  But it happens, and it may happen to your child.  I don’t say this to scare you.  I say it to prepare you.  When it comes to alcohol use by teens today, passive (“Don’t ask, don’t tell”) parenting certainly won’t protect your teen.  Permissive (“Let’s allow kids to drink at home”) parenting can actually encourage it.  So it is up to you to practice proactive (“No alcohol until age 21″) parenting, and hold the line.

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When An Adult Child Makes Bad Decisions

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, consequences, household rules, parenting communications, parenting older teens, struggling teens

 

10:14 Age Limit Blog

The Lord is merciful and gracious; He is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.” Psalm 103:8-9, NLT

When a child becomes an adult and is living on his own, it is no longer within our power to control much in their life. It is, however, within our power to manage our relationship with that child.

“Well, what do we do about the upcoming holidays?,” a father wanted to know.  You see, he was dealing with an adult teenager whom he had recently asked to leave their home. The son’s life was overrun by self-damaging things and he had no interest in changing. The parents had struggled and prayed long and hard about it, and rightfully concluded that it was time to ask their prodigal to go live somewhere else.

But they didn’t know what to do next. Asking their son to leave home changed everything about the way they thought things would go within their family. They were not prepared for it. In a tear-filled conversation, this father wondered – “Doesn’t inviting my son home for dinner mean we’re back to supporting his poor choices?”

The dilemma for every parent dealing with a child who exchanges a healthy life for an immoral lifestyle is this: how do we manage the day to day interactions with that child?

Let me encourage you if you are in a similar situation.  Hang in there, and remain hopeful. Don’t back down.  A good relationship with your child who has reached adulthood doesn’t mean you will never have conflict or always agree with their decisions. For parents it is important to love their older child, even when they continue to make destructive decisions.  Eventually, the child will come to his senses and he needs to know you’ll be there for him on the other side of the struggle.

When dealing with an older child, as with a younger child as well, it is extremely important to practice unconditional love.  It is love that is given across a bridge of friendship that doesn’t end when the the older child lives immorally, or chooses poorly. It is a love that provides a way of return to a closer relationship when the child finally returns to right thinking.

How to Practice Unconditional Love with an Older Child

1. Show a true desire to spend time together.

Even if your son or daughter has been asked to leave the house, still invite them to dinner. Send the message that you desire them to remain a part of your family, you intend to spend time together, and make special efforts to do so. Try to engage with them in something they like to do on a regular basis, and lovingly fight to keep your relationship with your child alive.

2. Love well during tough times.

Use your words and actions to send the message, “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.” That doesn’t change just because you’ve enforced some new boundaries. Just as God lovingly and wholeheartedly pursues us, gives us grace, and refuses to let us get away from Him, we can love well, and with compassion when a child is choosing wrong things.

3. Ask questions to open a dialogue.

Ask questions as a way of entering discussion, or lead a conversation with a thought provoking question. This is also an excellent way to leave a discussion when you are finished.  The right kind of questions (non-offensive ones) will stimulate discussion, and hopefully find some common ground. Eliminate “you” statements and replace them with “who, what, when, where, or how” questions that inspire further thought.

4. Be a servant, but not a doormat, even when it doesn’t fit your schedule and liking.

Remember that no kindness will go unnoticed, even if your teenager doesn’t acknowledge your efforts. Keeping an attitude of kindness and consideration that shows you value others more than yourself will help you find the right ways to serve your child when needed.

5. Don’t lecture. Wait to be invited before sharing your opinion.

One of my favorite scriptures says, “A fool delights in airing his own opinion.”  Before you give your opinion, make sure they’ve asked you for it first. Look to their interests and their needs, and not your limited focus or agenda. Don;t attempt to fix their problems. in other words, just keep quiet.

6. Don’t give in to their wrongdoing.

God does not help us do more wrong. We are never to enable another’s sin, including helping our child continue to do wrong or to develop damaging habits.  Allow God time and space to work in your child’s life, and don’t rescue their wrongdoing.

7.  Be patient.

Adjust your expectations away from a swift fix for your child. You may see change happen quickly, or you may not see a change for years.  It is important to remind yourself that it is God’s job to change someone’s heart, not yours.  Let Him do his work on His timetable while you remain prayerful and available to follow where he leads.

8.  Pray for your child daily and let him know you are praying.

Of course, we practice unconditional love by praying daily for our children, even when they become adults.  And be sure to let them know you are praying for them. They may think you are silly, but when bad times come for them, and they will, they will find comfort in knowing that there is a Higher Power that is petitioned daily on their behalf.

Loving unconditionally doesn’t mean you ignore your own beliefs and boundaries, or you fail to allow them to suffer the consequences of their own behavior. It does mean that your love for them isn’t affected by their behavior. You love them no matter what they decide to do or not to do. Making poor decisions or turning their backs to God doesn’t mean they lose your love and relationship as a parent.

Back to the question of the father at the beginning of this article.  I advised him to, “Invite him for dinner on Thanksgiving Day, just as you would any other member of your family. He knows how you feel about what he is involved in, so don’t bring it up. Use it as an opportunity to love your child, and give him a taste of the character of God.”

 

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The Internet, Teens & Privacy

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in internet monitoring, MySpace, teen privacy, troubled teens

Teens and Internet

I don’t have to spin tales about how things in the modern world are far different from when we were teenagers; we already know they are. But what some parents don’t know is how to effectively balance their teen’s privacy and protection. Do you have a tough time balancing “need to know” with providing your teen “some private space?”

Some parents feel unease, as if they are being sneaky or are in violation of their child’s trust, to investigate their child’s activities on the internet.  As one who daily sees the outcome of some of these cultural influences, let me set your mind at ease about monitoring your teen’s activities, on or off the internet.

First and foremost, I believe that a child needs and deserves privacy, but he also needs to know that you as a parent will go to no end to find out what he’s into if it begins affecting his attitudes and behaviors. After all, what he’s into, or the hold an outsider may have on your teen through the internet, may ultimately harm both him and your family. He may be too embarrassed to reveal it, or he could actually be afraid or feel threatened.

Follow your instincts. If you feel there is something wrong, there probably is. If you sense there are secrets abounding around you, there probably are. If something tells you your child is hiding something, you’re probably right. But when it comes to the internet, more care must be taken even if there is no outright cause for concern.

Get a Handle on the Internet…Even if Your Teen Shows No Signs of Trouble

The internet is one of the top dangers facing kids today. More rotten stuff happens on the internet than any place on earth, and you don’t have to cooperate with it or allow any of that to come into your home. Here are some tips for parents to get the internet under control:

1. Make it a home policy that parents must know all electronic passwords. This gives access if needed.  Add yourself to their “friend” list to be able to roam around on their site. Make their profile private, so that only approved “friends” can communicate with them.  A little monitoring goes a long way. If they refuse, disconnect or don’t pay for their internet access.

2. Put a high-quality internet screening/blocking software on the computer. Maintain appropriate blocking levels on the browser software (blocking access to certain web content, links or photos) and don’t back down on that.

3. Periodically view their internet “browser history” and follow the trail. You’ll be amazed. Software is available to secretly record their every move, if needed, especially if you think they are accessing the internet overnight or when you aren’t home.

4. If you feel there is a good reason to do so, read their email.  And find out who it is they are chatting with.

This is not a license to be over-controlling to the point where it pushes your child away. I’m encouraging you to be proactive and not have to face the regrets that come with “not knowing.” The fact is, kids are actively being stalked on the internet today and in their typical daring way they welcome the excitement of it all and they love role-playing in chat rooms.

I often say to teens, “Violation of my policy means violation of your privacy.” If they violate my set house rules, including internet usage rules, it should also change their expectation of privacy. If they are dishonest and lie to me, I will seek, search, and look in areas I don’t normally look in order to find answers. If they are deceptive, I will investigate. If they lie, I will pry. If they hide something, I will seek relevant information. Why? Because, as a parent, I am concerned about the life of my child, and I am responsible maintaining a sound and safe environment in the home until my child becomes an adult.

If your children are young, implement rules now to help keep you “in the know.” As your kids approach the teen years, update or add some new rules. Unless something in your teen’s life is out of control or there has been a recent change in the behavior, mood, or school grades, then a parent should keep in the know by just “looking around” and keeping an eye on things.

Tell Them You Are Watching

All parents must “keep a vigilant eye” on teenagers today.  Call it an “alert mom or dad,”  or an “involved parent,” if you will.  Be a parent who says, “I will continue to be someone who has your back, even when you don’t realize the serious nature of what you’re getting in to.” Let your teens know it is your job as a parent to keep your eyes wide open to look for anything going wrong.  Not so you can “catch them doing wrong,” but so that you can help them from falling into that trap.

If things are really spinning out of control, then it is time to have a “change of rules” discussion with your child.  This means you’ll be even more vigilant about monitoring.  The teen’s response will be, “YOU JUST DON’T TRUST ME!”  And your response can be, “It’s not that I don’t trust you…It’s that I hope to trust you more.” This statement tells your child, “I don’t want to control you, I want to be able to trust you, so use this opportunity to show me that I can trust you more than I ever have.”

I believe in privacy. I believe in trust. But I also believe in “being there” to be the parent God has called me to be. If I see anything that concerns me, then it must be brought out into the open, shared, and discussed. I tell kids that I sleep with one eye open. I’m always looking for something that has the potential to destroy a relationship with them.  I tell them that I’m looking out for them because I don’t want any unwelcome thing to intrude into their life.

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Boundaries for Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, parenting, struggling teens, teen drug use, troubled teens

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Consider the letter I received just the other day…

Saturday night our 15-year old son informed us he felt guilty because he has been smoking pot and lying about it for the last six months. He confessed to our Assistant Pastor, whom he respects, and who encouraged our son to tell us. As you can well imagine, this has been quite a blow. My heart has been broken. I can’t stop crying. I never, ever thought I’d go down this road with him. We agree our son needs discipline, but I fear my husband will be too harsh, and it will cause my son to further rebel. What is the right thing to do here?

Troubled… 

–California

My Response…

You might be dealing with just an ice cube, or you might have just touched on the tip of the iceberg. Until you dive in, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two. In the first place, try to remain calm. You have many things working in your favor in dealing with your son, such as:

  • He confessed, so you didn’t have to “find it out” or make any “new discoveries.”
  • He said he feels guilty about what he was doing.
  • He respects someone outside the family and felt comfortable telling them, and then you.
  • He’s been grounded in scriptural principles regarding his character.

It is good that you are trying to get a handle on the issue. And you are wise to carefully consider the discipline that you are about to take. But, before you take the plunge, here’s something to think about. Sometimes parents are quick to hand out discipline or punishment — like grounding, extraction from social interaction, or taking away privileges or possessions. Discipline is good, but taking away something won’t always solve the problem entirely. It is only half of the solution for a teenager, who wants to also be treated more like an adult, not a child.

Remember that smoking pot may be an attempt to numb the hurt he feels.  When he is using such drugs, the hurt temporarily goes away.  Don’t add to those hurts by going overboard with the disciplines you hand down or by telling him how disappointed you are in him.  Fortifying your household boundaries, adding some new healthy boundaries, and strengthening your relationship will provide better results.

Boundaries are simply limits set around behavior to try to change the direction a child is going. They define what you will and won’t accept, and should come from what you believe is right for your teen at this stage in his life and for your family.

Boundaries include what your son already knows, what you’ve taught him all his life, and they are why he is feeling guilty about smoking pot. But sometimes teens get confused by which boundaries are “childhood” boundaries and which are lifelong boundaries.  For instance, holding mom’s hand as you walk across the street is a childhood boundary.  Avoiding illigal or immoral activity is a lifelong boundary.  The goal, then, is to make it clear to your teen which boundaries are now appropriate for him, according to the values you hold dear and just common sense (you may have noticed that teens don’t always have a lot of common sense).

Some healthy new boundaries could also include requiring your son to meet regularly with your Assistant Pastor, the one that he respects. Call and ask if that person is willing to meet your son for the next six weeks in order to talk through any underlying issues that are fueling his behavior or the feelings that led him to try pot in the first place. Tell your son you expect him to participate fully, and that during this time you will limit his other activities and contact with friends, specifically those that encouraged smoking pot.

Another positive boundary is to tell him that you will be testing him for drug use at home, using simple urine tests that you can buy at your local pharmacy. Tell him that any positive signs of drug use will result in a further plan of action.  Knowing you’ll test him for drugs periodically will help him avoid the pressure of using pot (or worse) when he is with friends or at school. In other words, he’ll be able to say to them, “I can’t, because my parents are testing me and I’ll be in real trouble if the test comes out positive.”

As you develop healthy boundaries, make it a point for both you and your husband to spend time with your son on a regularly scheduled basis. Set up a weekly breakfast or dinner with just him. Be sure to mostly listen, not talk. Begin and end your discussion with making sure he understand that there is nothing he can do to make you love him more, and there’s nothing he can do to make you love him less. Don’t be afraid to ask him the hard questions.

Your goal should be to establish a solid relationship, encourage ongoing discussions, and as a result, other things he is struggling with will be revealed. Often a teen is acting out due to deeper issues. Is he struggling with his sexuality, or are bullies threatening him at school, or does he feel intimidated by his peers into doing the same wrong things they are doing, or could he be struggling with depression or low self-esteem?  Ask him if he needs your help, or the help of anyone else. Seek professional help if needed.

The bottom line is to avoid lecturing and begin listening and observing. Teenagers simply don’t respond to lecturing and it may take awhile for them to open up to you, but keep trying. And don’t let the disappointment you feel cause you to pass judgment or condemn him, because he probably already feels badly enough, even if he doesn’t outwardly show it. Remember, this isn’t about you, your reputation, or your parenting skills. It is about him.

Move from disappointment and judgment to compassion, but make it clear what the boundaries are.

Take advantage of the opportunity before you to keep the relationship open and alive. Stand your ground concerning the boundaries, and add some new boundaries, but strive to get through it all with your relationship intact. Then your son will learn to respect the healthy boundaries you’ve put into place in his life, and in the future will continue to come to you whenever he is struggling.

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